After 36 years in its Cambodia Town location, the Long Beach Khmer Kickboxing Center will soon have to relocate.
The current space located on Anaheim Street and owned by the Long Beach Rescue Mission, will be utilized for the organization’s expansion of its homeless shelter services.
“I mean, naturally, we’re not gonna like it, you know, but it’s just a part of life,” said trainer and co-owner Ron Smith on the upcoming relocation, which is expected to be Aug. 1. Smith has been with the gym since 1991. “We have to deal with it … so we can move and continue on.”
The gym has two “very promising” possible locations in mind, both of which are also located in Cambodia Town, Smith said, noting that the city, as well as the United Cambodian Community, were helpful in the process of scouting out new locations.
Staying in Cambodia Town is a priority for the gym, Smith said. Its founder Oum Ry, who trained in Cambodian kickboxing, a martial art called Pradal Serey, was a kickboxing champion prior to establishing the center in 1987.
At the age of 23, Ry became a national champion in Cambodia, and for 15 years he toured Southeast Asia and won over 250 fights, according to the Khmer Kickboxing website. Ry went on to become an international champion in 1972, and remained active until 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia, according to the gym’s recent Instagram post.
After surviving and escaping the genocide, Ry settled in Long Beach where he opened the gym, which is now known as the oldest Southeast Asian kickboxing school in Southern California, the post reads.
“He even taught me,” Smith said. “I want to keep the Cambodian tradition going because of him.”
Over the years, the kickboxing center has become a city institution, and has produced numerous champions who have gone on to tour in locations across the world, from China, Japan, Romania, Guatemala, Hawaii and Mexico, Smith said.
“We really was in the fight game for real,” he said.
Particularly for some of the younger people who have come through the kickboxing center, who were “leaning towards the gangbanging side,” the gym created a new pathway, Smith said.
“Some of them went to college, some of them got their degrees … I’ve seen them come in as kids and leave as adults, and now they have families,” Smith said. “The gym gave the young ones different avenues, instead of just running the streets.”
As for what’s in store for the future of the current kickboxing center location, the entire strip mall will be transformed into a shelter space, said Long Beach Rescue Mission executive director Jeff Levine.
The Long Beach Rescue Mission purchased the building around nine years ago or so, and in January 2022, began examining the space as a potential location for a 15-bed shelter for men with disabilities, Levine said.
The organization’s Samaritan House on Pacific Avenue, which also serves men, was built in the late ‘80s, and doesn’t meet the ADA requirements that exist today, with only two beds on the ground floor for those with disabilities, explained Levine.
The new Anaheim Street space, known as Hosanna House, will be wheelchair accessible.
“We turn men down every day who can’t get up and down the stairs,” Levine said.
According to the city’s most recent homeless count, 20.8% of people surveyed reported having a developmental disability, while 24.5% said they have a physical disability.
Levine estimated that the Rescue Mission is a couple weeks away from finalizing the permitting process with the city, which will allow renovations on both the building and parking lots to begin later this year, he said.
Although there is a great need in the community for more resources serving the city’s unhoused, it’s unfortunate that the Khmer Kickboxing Center will have to relocate as a result, Levine said. The organization tried to provide as advanced notice as possible, and has not charged rent during this time, he said.
“Our posture as an organization isn’t to put people out on the street, our long-term business owners and staples— we’ve tried to approach this in the most loving way we can while meeting community needs, and organizational needs,” Levine said. “We want good for them, that’s our heart.”
To support the Long Beach Khmer Kickboxing Center with moving expenses, contribute to the GoFundMe here.